It’s been a great summer with long, warm days that have been as appreciated by drivers as they have by those putting up a deckchair or firing up the barbeque. However, the autumn weather is bringing rain to Britain, which makes for more difficult driving conditions.
Despite modern cars brimming with electronic systems that can help prevent an accident, all experts agree that it’s important drivers adjust their driving style to allow for the challenges that wet roads present man and machine. We asked Daffyd Williams, a professional driving instructor and driving team manager at Mercedes-Benz World, for his expert tips on staying safe when driving in the rain.
Be prepared: know the weather forecast and take a coat
The rain could be worse along your intended journey, so check the weather forecast, pack a coat and umbrella, and remember your phone. If the roads flood and traffic grinds to a halt, you’ll be glad you have them with you.
Check your tyres’ tread depth
Of all the checks before setting off, this is the most crucial. Tyres are your connection to the road and are all too often overlooked.
The legal tread depth limit is 1.6mm, but I’d advise replacing them once they reach 2mm. Also, the tread depth should be even across the width of the tyre, and the air pressure in each tyre must be set correctly according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation – not according to your guestimate!
Do you really need four-wheel drive? Consider fitting winter tyres
I once worked for a car maker that conducted an exercise where a four-wheel drive car on normal tyres was challenged to drive up a snowy slope against a rear-wheel drive car on winter tyres. The car with rear-wheel drive and winter tyres breezed it. And winter tyres excel on wet roads too. So ask yourself; do you really need four-wheel drive?
Use your lights
Whenever visibility is reduced, use your headlights. Foglamps should only be switched on when you can’t see beyond 100 metres.
Avoid steamy windows by using air-conditioning
Air-conditioning dries air and prevents windows steaming up. Run your air-conditioning system all year round; it’s accepted as good practice to keep it running efficiently.
Match your speed with the conditions
This is absolutely crucial. We’ve all witnessed it where the conditions are very, very poor and someone speeds past in the outside lane, perhaps because they’re in a large car and feel invincible. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s extremely dangerous.
On wet roads, visibility is greatly reduced and stopping distances typically double compared with dry roads. So you have to be able to stop in the distance you can see. Of everything, this will make you a safer driver.
Give yourself space
In poor driving conditions, give yourself a distance buffer. Everyone around you is likely to be stressed and anxious, and this is the time accidents happen. Leave a four second gap between your car and the one in front. Count it out from the car ahead passing a fixed object like a bridge or lamp post. Holding back also gives you a better view of the road ahead, especially when following a lorry or caravan.
Brake in straight line
Most drivers have been told this but won’t understand why they should do so. Braking can potentially upset the car the most. Applying the brakes in the middle of a corner, because you got cocky and carried too much speed into it, could set the car into a spin. Get the braking done before you start turning.
I also coach people that they should always have an input on the car. By which I mean it should never be coasting through a bend. The car should be braking, turning, then be held on a steady throttle. Only once you start to unwind the steering lock should you accelerate away.
Don’t stamp on the accelerator and expect the car’s electronic safety systems to sort out delivering the power to the wheels. What if the conditions are so bad that these systems become overwhelmed? Always accelerate smoothly.
What to do if you aquaplane
A loss of traction is a scary feeling for any driver. Be smooth with the controls and don’t panic. You can’t afford to ‘startle’ the car.
One of the key things is to be to look where you want the car to go – such as the road ahead. That will then help with all the other aspects of safely controlling the situation. If you look at the vehicle travelling to towards you, or a hedge, the chances are you’ll end up hitting it, because when you look at the accident point you are inevitably drawn there.
Take a driving course
Book yourself on a driving course, ideally one at a purpose-built facility where you can explore the limit of the car’s adhesion. It really will improve your confidence in all driving scenarios.
It will help you build a dialogue with the car, identify the warning signs and then learn the control measures that recover a situation. Understanding the feeling of tyres losing grip will help you gain confidence. It’s like learning a foreign language: you become fluent over time.
Dafydd Williams is driving team manager at Mercedes-Benz World